The emotional toll of being a caregiver to a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease is hard enough. But when your loved one is struggling with addiction, it seems the bar is raised a few levels higher. Not only are you caring for someone who’s losing memory, coordination, and mental function daily, you’re also taking on roles in medication management, watching for drug use of any kind, and so much more.
Many Alzheimer’s patients experience addiction because of the reality of co-occurring disorders. This is the concurrence between substance use disorder and a mental disorder like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Anyone can experience co-occurring disorders such as this, but Alzheimer’s patients face an especially high risk of developing an addiction and a mental illness.
Alzheimer’s Patients and Addiction
Living with Alzheimer’s and an addiction presents many unique challenges for everyone involved. Recovering from an addiction can take months or years of hard work and dedication to sobriety without the added roadblock of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Many times, it’s the systems in place that hurt our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Studies have found that Alz patients are prescribed more drugs than their peers who don’t have the disease. Our loved ones are most often being prescribed anticholinergic, sedative, and antidepressant drugs.
Not only this but one of the most common addictions that Alz patients experience is alcoholism. And if alcohol is mixed with any of the above medicines or other drugs, the risks can only increase. Our loved ones may get confused and mix substances that they don’t mean to, or they may have easy access to those things and do it on purpose.
It’s no fault of yours or your loved ones if they do become addicted to these things. If you’re caring for an Alzheimer’s patient who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone.
Tips on Caring for an Alzheimer’s Patient with an Addiction
If you’re struggling to care for a loved one who’s dealing with both Alzheimer’s and addiction, you’re probably feeling a heavy weight you never thought you’d have to carry. Thankfully, there are ways you can effectively care for yourself and your loved one.
First, Focus on Yourself
This is hard, really hard. But before you can pour into your loved one, you need to first fill yourself up. Try to make time for yourself throughout the week to spend time alone, have lunch with a friend, or read a good book.
When you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and addiction, you’re spending twice the amount of energy you would if they did not have an addiction. Yes, it’s important to care for them well and make sure they’re healthy and safe, but your needs are also a priority.
If your loved one has been prescribed medications and is abusing those drugs, manage the medications for them. Allow them the daily dose as prescribed, and take away the bottle after that. Don’t let them have full access to things like medications or alcohol if you see signs of misuse.
Ensure They’re Getting Proper Nutrition and Exercise
A person with Alzheimer’s might turn to substances if they’re not physically healthy. Their mental wellbeing is greatly influenced by the foods they eat, the amount of exercise they get, and seeing fresh air and sunshine.
If your loved one doesn’t move around much or struggles to do any physical exercise, there are still ways to get active. If they use a walker, encourage them to take short walks around the room or outside. If they’re in a wheelchair, help them to perform leg or arm exercises. Then, get your loved one a good meal full of the vitamins and nutrition they need.
Get Them Help
Your loved one might need professional and social support. You can find Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous meetings for them, as well as Al-Anon meetings for yourself. Find other support groups with others going through the same thing so you both know that you’re not alone in this.
Counseling or medication-assisted treatment may be effective for your loved one. There are also rehab programs specialized for adults living with Alzheimer’s so they can get proper individualized care.
Caring for Your Loved One Well
It can be overwhelming when your loved one is facing so many challenges that you feel helpless to control. If you’re a caregiver who’s working through some of these battles, there are ways you can help yourself and your loved one. Give yourself space to feel what you need to feel and recoup, and then offer assistance to your loved one.
Author bio: Hannah Bennett is a content specialist for AddictionResource.net, an informational guide that provides resources on substance abuse, mental health, and treatment options for individuals who struggle with addiction and their loved ones.